Embracing Jobs for Kern County
In today’s Bakersfield Californian is an excellent pro-HSR op-ed by John Spaulding, executive secretary of the Building & Construction Trades Council for Kern, Inyo and Mono counties. Titled “We must embrace the jobs at Kern County’s doorstep” it makes an excellent argument for HSR as being part of economic recovery for Bakersfield and Kern County:
The consequences of Wall Street’s Great Recession continue to hit Kern County with serious ferocity. The unemployment rate stands above 15 percent — fully 60 percent above the national average. In my industry, construction, unemployment rates are even higher, hovering around 20 percent. The underemployment rate in California, which includes workers who have slipped into the underground economy, as well as those who are seeking full-time work but can only find part-time jobs, currently exceeds 22 percent. This is an outright crisis for our community. Projections from the Congressional Budget Office show very little improvement over the next few years in the unemployment rate nationally. Luckily, Kern County and California can start to turn this dire situation around, because we are about to begin building high-speed rail.
These are Depression-era numbers, and it makes sense to embrace a Depression-era solution: build lasting infrastructure that puts people to work now and provides economic growth opportunities for years to come. Spalding understands this quite clearly:
Incredibly, there are still skeptics out there that say we can’t afford to begin the high-speed rail project. High-speed rail opponents have a laundry list of criticisms, but do they have any solutions to the county’s unemployment crisis? No. Rather than embracing jobs at our doorstep, they continue to parrot the nonsense that high-speed rail will bankrupt us. You wouldn’t know it listening to the loudest politicians these days, but Kern Country has for generations benefited from state and federal infrastructure projects like the aqueducts and freeway project that brought fresh water and new customers from other parts of the state to the southern Central Valley.
The fact is, high-speed rail is the only project on the horizon that will create the large number of jobs we need to make a significant dent in our appalling unemployment rates. Therefore, we can’t afford not to start high-speed rail. The choices are quite clear. We begin construction now, or we let other states take our high-speed rail money and our jobs. It is baffling to me that there is even a debate about the economic benefits of high-speed rail for our county.
…If we have the courage to act, Kern County will find itself the single greatest beneficiary of high-speed rail in California. By far, more track will be laid here — well over 100 miles — than in any other county. The project will greatly improve access to Bakersfield, tying our economy to the large urban centers around California. It will also begin to help clear our horribly polluted air.
Spalding understands well what is needed to put Kern County back to work: high speed rail. Nothing else comes close in terms of ability to create a lot of jobs quickly, and in this era of permanently high gas prices, nothing else has the potential to spur as much long term growth. Sure, some people talk about water, but unless they have a method to make it rain more often, it won’t matter since there’s no more water to move.
Spalding expressed incredulity that anyone would oppose this. But judging by a recent hearing in Hanford, it shouldn’t be all that surprising – most HSR opponents are simply Tea Party activists who hate all government spending, unless of course it is in the form of a direct subsidy to themselves:
With a giant tea party banner serving as a backdrop, Kings County residents dominated a California High-Speed Rail Authority hearing in Hanford’s Civic Auditorium Wednesday night with wide-ranging criticism….
“All of us here in this room are taxpayers,” said Hanford resident Paul Rohrbough. “And I’m here to say that we can’t afford this project. Financial common sense must be the rule.”
Here’s how financial common sense works. You borrow money now to build a massive infrastructure project that puts a ton of people to work immediately. That gives you a huge economic boost, without any short-term cost. Money circulates in the economy, those employed on the HSR project spend and help employ others in the community. This fuels growth and generates tax revenue. Over the long term, the economic growth created by the project – estimated at $10 billion a year for Los Angeles alone – helps sustain the economy and helps pay back the money borrowed to build the infrastructure. That’s how the debt taken on during the Depression and during World War II was repaid – paying it back did not crash the US economy in the postwar years, far from it.
Teabaggers complain about the debt causing long-term problems for the country. That’s an absurd claim, at a time when the cost of borrowing for the US government is at record lows.
The economic case for HSR is strong. Those who say it isn’t are peddling Hooverism.